‘Three’s Company’: John Ritter Bested Insane Amount of Actors for Part of Jack Tripper

by Suzanne Halliburton
Photo by Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

Three’s Company could not have been the same without John Ritter. The show wouldn’t have featured the same charm or all-around fun factor.

It was all perfect 1970s-era comic silliness. Ritter played a culinary student in LA. He crashed a party at Janet and Chrissy’s place. They needed a roommate, but the apartment manager didn’t believe men and women should live together if they weren’t married. So to get around the rule, the three decided to say Jack was gay so it would be more believable that he could live with two beautiful women as friends.

Three’s Company producers needed the perfect guy to play Jack Tripper. And they scrutinized a lot of young, up-and-coming actors. There were as many as 50 who tried out for Jack. The first choice was, wait for it, Billy Crystal. Yes, the “you’re marvelous” comedian and actor who starred in When Harry Met Sally could’ve been Jack Tripper. Instead, Crystal joined the cast of Soap, the comedy that mocked the drama on day-time soap operas. He played Jodie Dallas, an openly gay character.

Before Three’s Company, John Ritter’s Career Break was in The Waltons

John Ritter was fresh off his recurring character on The Waltons, his dad, Tex Ritter’s, favorite show. Ritter played Matthew Fordwick, a preacher straight out of Bible college who took over the church on Waltons Mountain. Although the part only was a recurring one, it represented Ritter’s first significant role in Hollywood.

Three’s Company, with John Ritter as its star, ran from 1977 through 1983. As Jack Tripper, Ritter received three Emmy nominations for Outstanding Actor in a Comedy Series. He won in 1984 for his final season with the comedy. The guy who beat out 50 actors appeared in all 172 episodes.

Suzanne Somers, who portrayed Chrissy on Three’s Company, said her co-star was on his way to becoming the next Dick Van Dyke.

“John Ritter could flip over a couch and it was choreographed like a dance,” Somers said of Ritter. “He didn’t count it out, but he did it the same way each time.”

Fonzie Said of Ritter ‘Now, That Is a Talent’

And Henry Winkler, who exploded in the 1970s as Fonzie on Happy Days, also was amazed by his friend from Three’s Company.

Winkler and Ritter met at an ABC network event and became immediate friends.

Winkler said of the Three’s Company star:

“His brain was like a supersonic jet. You kept thinking to yourself, God, I wish I’d thought of that. Wow, how did he think of that that quickly? What you never tried to do was match his funny. I never tried to one-up him. Because it was impossible. He topped pretty much everybody. He’d tell the same joke, too. He could tell it three or four or five times a day, and it was as funny the first time as it was the last time he told it that day. Now that is a talent.”

Sadly, John Ritter died Sept. 11, 2003, when he was only 54. He was on set, rehearing his new comedy 8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter, when he fell ill. Doctors didn’t know at the time he was suffering from an aortic dissection.

But Ritter and his zany actics live on via Three’s Company, which still is in reruns on cable networks and streaming services.